What Is Cuban Coffee
People who have had the pleasure of sampling Cuban coffee cannot stop raving about it as most of them agree that it is just that good. If you are still unfamiliar with it, it refers to espresso, which originated from Cuba. It was developed in the country after the arrival of the Italians.
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Also called Cafecito, Cuban coffee is prepared with the help of demerara. A shot of it is needed to sweeten the beverage during the process of brewing. Many things make Cuban coffee unique, including its distinct dark color and strong, robust flavor. These distinctions prove that this beverage uses one of the world’s best coffee beans.
Another thing that makes Cuban coffee different is that it traditionally uses demerara sugar, a form of unrefined sugar. You have to add it straight into the espresso during preparation instead of serving it separately. This unique method of preparation gives the Cuban coffee its signature crema. It is also what gives it a distinct and thicker texture compared to American coffee.
Benefits of Drinking Cuban Coffee
Cuban coffee is one of those beverages that are worth trying. Among the benefits of this coffee that makes it worthwhile to try are the following:
Cuban coffee is like espresso, especially with all the caffeine contained in such a small cup. If you want a quick and strong black coffee without additives on a sluggish Monday morning, then it is what you need.
One small cup of Cuban coffee is also enough to give you a jolt of energy in the middle of the day. It can even help you sustain such energy throughout the day. The main reason behind it is that Cuban coffee has the strength of espresso combined with the added kick of the sugar in the espuma, providing you the extra jolt you need.
Very Easy to Make
You will only need two ingredients (three if you want to cut this strong coffee with some steamed milk) to make Cuban coffee. You do not even need a fancy machine to make it. Just a Moka pot will do. It does not also require you to accurately measure your coffee. You have to eyeball it.
The whole Cuban coffee-making process involves grinding the beans finely, loading the pot, placing it on the stove, and waiting for it. Even if you get raw coffee beans, roasting fresh coffee at home is not as difficult as it seems. It does not also take that long. Unlike a refreshing cold brew coffee, which takes hours to make, you can have a nice hot cup of Cuban coffee in less than five minutes.
Good for Your Health
Cuban coffee is also one of those beverages that are good for your body and health. There are inherent health benefits to drinking it – among which are raising your energy levels, burning unwanted fat, and supplying your body with essential vitamins and minerals. It can even help lower your risk of diabetes.
Short History of Cuban Coffee
Coffee first came to Cuba when Jose Antonio Gelabert, the Spanish treasury’s overseer back when it was still a colony of Spain. Gelabert was also the first to establish a coffee plantation in the country. When the French colonists came into the country during the latter part of the 18th century, they also brought intricate brewing methods that Cubans still use today.
Cuba’s coffee boom reached its peak in the 19th and 20th centuries. Back then, the country was the chief and primary exporter of coffee to Spain. However, the Cuban coffee industry started to come to a steep decline in 1959, and it took an even bigger hit three years later when the United States enacted an embargo on trade goods with the country.
The industry took yet another hit in the late 1980s when the Soviet Union collapsed. At the time, Cuba highly depended on exporting goods to the other communist nations with very few alternatives due to the American embargo. When the USSR collapsed, the Cuban economy also tanked, leading to the country’s Great Depression.
In 2007, the country’s coffee industry hit an all-time low when it was only able to produce a measly 7,000 bags of coffee, compared to the usual 444,000 bags it usually exports to other countries. Thanks to government subsidies, Cuban coffee growers managed to bounce back a little, presently producing over 120,000 bags per year. It is still not the same as it once was, but it is gradually and steadily rising, as Ventanitas appears again in many parts of the country.
How Does Cuban Coffee Work
One of the reasons for Cuban coffee’s unique flavor is its super fine grind. If you think of preparing your own Cuban coffee, you need to grind your Arabica or Robusta beans as if you will be using them for espresso or brewing tasty Costa Rican coffee. The reason is that it is very similar to what Cuban coffee is.
The difference between traditional espresso and Cuban coffee is that the latter uses Moka pots for brewing instead of using coffee machine made in the USA. Moka pots are basically stainless-steel pots, sometimes with an enamel coating. You can expect these pots to work by pushing water through the coffee grounds using steam.
Pros and Cons of Cuban Coffee
- It is organically-grown. Cuban coffee farmers use the red, volcanic soil and the temperate mountain climate to grow healthy coffee plants. They often do so even without any fertilizers at all. Also, Cuban coffee beans are hand-picked and processed, so many consider it one of the world’s best.
- It is a social drink. As per the Cuban people’s customs, you can make a tradition of brewing a Colada of Cuban coffee and sharing it with a couple of friends. This beverage is a way to socialize with other people – be it your family or colleagues.
- It has tins of health benefits. Cuban coffee supposedly has several health benefits, which is not surprising as coffee, in general, is actually a healthy drink when taken in moderation. Some of the health benefits provided by Cuban coffee include cellulite removal and prevention and better colon health. It might also prevent the onset of Parkinson’s disease.
- Quite difficult to source genuine Cuban coffee. The only downside to Cuban coffee is that it is tough to acquire its genuine coffee beans because of the ongoing trade embargo. It is not like ordering coffee from Amazon. However, you can get some American versions of the coffee. The problem is that they are not quite as good as the genuine stuff.
- May not appeal to casual coffee drinkers. Cuban coffee is robust and rustic. Even decaffeinated espresso contains some caffeine and if you have trouble handling even that, you will have trouble with Cuban coffee.
Coffee Culture in Cuba
In Cuba and the many Cuban communities worldwide, drinking Cuban coffee (Cafecito) is a popular, and most of the time, required daily social activity. People usually share coffee from a large tumbler (Colada), which contains up to six shots.
The participants would then pour coffee into small demitasse cups, called Tacitas. Sometimes, the drinkers will have to dip Cuban cigars in the Tacita before lighting it. They say that it infuses the cigar with the flavor of the coffee.
Types of Cuban Coffee
What is so good about Cuban coffee is that it comes in different variations that allow you to pick one which perfectly suits your fancy. The following are just some of the most popular variations that continue to earn good praises from those who have already tried them:
Cafecito is the traditional coffee enjoyed in Cuba. You brew this type of coffee using finely ground coffee beans in a traditional brewing pot called a Moka. You then have to sweeten it using an unrefined sugar called demerara. This type of sugar is what gives Cuban coffee its signature thick consistency. Another thing that gives Cuban coffee its distinct characteristics is a sweet milk foam called espumita that always comes with it.
The Colada is technically not a separate type of Cuban coffee. It is just one way of serving it. If you want to do what the Cubans do and share your Cafecito with friends and family, you serve it in a large tumbler called a colada and pour the coffee into individual small cups to enjoy.
Cafe con Leche
This variation is just a regular Cuban coffee with a cup of hot, steamed milk on the side. You pour as much of the milk into your coffee before drinking. You do not need a premium milk frother. You can easily make steamed milk using your microwave.
The word cortado originates from Spain, and the Cubans used its diminutive form to describe this drink. It is a regular Cuban coffee with a couple of tablespoons of steamed milk mixed in it. It is the best choice for those who are beginners at drinking Cuban coffee. The reason is that the milk added to it helps a lot in cutting the coffee’s bitterness. It makes the bitterness just enough for beginners to enjoy.
What to Look for in Cuban Coffee
To make sure that you will be enjoying a Cuban coffee that gives you ultimate satisfaction, it would be best to look for the following:
Cuban coffee beans are usually Arabica, but some plantations use Robusta beans and roast them to a medium to medium-dark color. If you cannot get your hands on genuine Cuban beans, you can use whatever you like, but make sure to have them dark roasted.
You should get your Cuban (or any alternative variety) ground very fine, like what you would do if you are preparing to make an espresso. It will allow you to extract as much of the caffeine from the beans as possible. Some people say that manually ground coffee has better taste, but you can use an automatic grinder if you want to.
Find out the real value of the coffee, too. If you can manage to find someone who sells genuine Cuban coffee, expect to pay a premium price. However, plenty of more affordable stateside alternatives come really close to the taste of real Cuban coffee.
Best Brands of Cuban Coffee
If you want to start shopping for Cuban coffee, you have to start looking into the most trusted brands. Among those that have already earned positive reviews for the quality of their coffee are the following:
The Bustelo brand name has been around for almost a hundred years. With that, you have an assurance that the quality of Bustelo Supreme products is top-notch. Although experienced Cuban coffee drinkers will find its flavor slightly weaker than the genuine item, this coffee is the perfect gateway for those who want to get into Cuban coffees.
Mayorga Cafe Cubano
This brand has a similar robust taste to real Cuban coffee, specifically dark roast. It also has the same syrupy texture that one would expect from a Café Cubano. However, it is on the pricey side, and it might be a bit too strong for beginner palates.
If you are looking for a good quality pre-ground coffee, Café Bustelo is one of the best brands that you can get. This dark roast is meant for espresso, but its bitter aftertaste is good for Café Cubano as it works well when mixed with Espuma.
Café La Llave
This brand is another pre-ground dark roast coffee that is perfect for Cuban coffee. Although it might be too bold for beginners, it does have a delightful aroma and chocolatey aftertaste that makes it a pleasant way to start the day. It is also one of the more affordable brands in the market right now.
This brand is the coffee of choice of the numerous Ventanitas in South Miami, one of the country’s largest Cuban-American communities. It makes it as close to the real deal as you can get. Aside from delivering a strong kick, it is also dark and rich. However, since it is restaurant-grade, expect it to come at a premium price.
For 95 years, Naviera Coffee has been operating in Tampa, Florida, and multitudes of people flock to their coffee shop within their area. However, the popular café had closed its doors and shifted operations to a different location. This dark roasted coffee is quite robust with a chicory flavor profile.
Chock Full o’ Nuts
This brand is one of the most commercially-recognizable coffee providers right now, seeing as the company is almost a hundred years old and you can find them in almost all supermarkets. However, just because Chock full o’ Nuts is “mainstream,” that does not necessarily mean that their Cuban Roast is just a cheap imitation, quite the opposite, really. This coffee has a strong and bold flavor. It is actually stronger than most of the other products on this list. Not bad for something that was introduced in 2017.
This brand is the more economical but a bit more lackluster option of Pilon ground espresso coffee. Although it does not have the same refined taste as the Gourmet, it still makes it closer to what Cuban coffee tastes like. This fine-ground espresso coffee has a bitter aftertaste, making it the perfect vessel for Espuma and steamed milk.
How to Brew Cuban Coffee
Step 1 – Procure the right beans
You will need the right kinds of beans if you want to get the right taste and punch. Since real Cuban coffee beans are hard to come by stateside, you can replace them with a Colombian robusta or arabica, medium to medium-dark roast.
Step 2 – Get a Moka pot
If you want to brew Cuban coffee, use what the Cubans use, which is a Moka pot. You can find this piece of hardware in many coffee specialty stores.
Step 3 – Start grinding
Grind the beans to the right consistency. Note that Cuban coffee will need finely ground coffee beans to extract every bit of flavor and caffeine, so this step is crucial.
Step 4 – Set up the Moka pot
Load the Moka pot and place it on the stove. Disassemble the Moka pot. Put about half a cup to ¾ cup of water in the lower chamber, then place the funnel-like part on top of it. Lightly pack it full with coffee grounds. Screw on the top of the pot and place it on the stove at medium heat.
Step 5 – Prepare the espuma
In a large mug, place three to four heaped teaspoons of demerara sugar. If you do not have demerara, dark brown sugar will do. Wait for the first bit of coffee to come up in the Moka pot and pour around a teaspoon’s worth of it into the sugar. Mix the sugar and coffee vigorously until you form a slightly thick, light-brown foam.
Step 6 – Stir and serve
Pour the brewed coffee into the mug containing the espuma. Stir it well until you completely combine the espuma and the coffee. Pour the mixture into small cups (tacitas). Serve as is or with a small cup of steamed milk on the side.
Does More Spending Mean More Quality
When it comes to Cuban coffee, it is almost a guarantee that you will need to spend a bit more money to get an authentic experience. If you want the genuine Cuban coffee beans, you will need to pay exorbitant fees as they are still subject to government embargo, so they need to pass through many hoops to get into the US.
Do’s and Don’ts With Cuban Coffee
Just like with other types of specialty coffees, there are certain things that you need to do, and not do, to Cuban coffee. If you do things the wrong way, you risk turning the entire experience into something completely different. If you want the authentic Cuban coffee drinking experience, here are some pointers.
- Grind the beans finely. You need to grind the dark roast beans to an outstanding consistency, just like what you would do for espresso. It will extract most of the flavor and caffeine from the grinds.
- Use a Moka pot. There really is no alternative to using a Moka pot if you want Cuban coffee. Using steam to push the water through the finely ground beans gives Cuban coffee its distinctive punch and flavor.
- Do not use sugar. Cuban coffee uses an unrefined type of sugar called demerara. If you cannot find any demerara, you can use dark brown sugar. It will taste similar, but not quite the same. Also, do not go by adding coffee creamer for a richer taste. If you want to cut the bitterness, use a bit of real milk.
FAQ About Cuban Coffee
How strong is Cuban coffee?
Because of the way you brew it, Cuban coffee is about twice as strong as regular American coffee (drip coffee). It is technically an espresso. It was born out of necessity during the Great Depression in Cuba when people are rationed only a couple of ounces of coffee per month. People then had to find ways to make it last longer, so they brewed small amounts of concentrated coffee.
Is Cuban coffee legal in the US?
Yes. Beginning from the late US president John F. Kennedy, the USA has placed an embargo on all Cuba’s trade products. The US still enforces the embargo until now, so if you run across a seller offering you authentic Cuban coffee, it is either from the black market or not really what the person claims it to be. You can still buy an American version of the Cuban coffee. Although it is not perfectly the same as the original, they do have the same roots.
How do you make Espuma for Cuban coffee?
You need to brew a bit of Cuban coffee in a Moka pot and then pour a couple of teaspoons of the first draw into a large cup with 4 teaspoons of demerara sugar. Vigorously beat the contents of the cup until you get a thick, caramel-colored foam and there, you have your espuma.
How do you make a Cuban coffee using a sock?
It might seem strange, but it is a traditional way to brew coffee in Cuba, particularly the Café Carretero. The concept behind the coffee sock method is quite simple and doing it is even more so.
You place a clean (preferably brand new) sock into a pot or cup, stretch its mouth over the opening of the pot or cup. Place a couple of tablespoons of finely ground espresso coffee inside the sock.
Pour hot water into the sock and let the water drip through the coffee grinds and the sock. Wait for all the water to pass through and immediately serve with espuma and some steamed milk (optional). You will not be investing in a travel coffee maker any time soon once you discover that you can also brew coffee using a sock.
Does Cuban coffee have more caffeine than American coffee?
Yes. Due to the brewing method, Cuban coffee has at least twice the amount of caffeine as a regular drip coffee.
Why is Cuban coffee served in a small cup?
The traditional method of serving Cuban coffee in small cups (called tacitas) results from the government’s strict rationing and the coffee shortage that hit the country after the fall of the USSR. During those dark times, the Cuban government rationed allocations of about 4 ounces of coffee per month per person.
This necessitated using the tacitas and strong brewing methods to help them stretch out their meager coffee rations. The practice has stuck with the Cubans even after the country’s economy managed to get back on its feet.
Cuban coffee might have originated from necessity during the country’s Great Depression, but it is now a trendy drink that is enjoyed worldwide. Even a complete beginner at brewing coffee can make this simple yet tasty beverage. It only needs three ingredients at most and only takes minutes to make. If you need a strong kick to get your day started, this is the drink you need.
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